Queen Máxima is both the first non-European and the first “commoner” to join the Dutch Royal Family.
But who is Queen Maxima? And how did she end up becoming a beloved Dutch royal? Here’s a tale of adventure, travel, acceptance, and a hint of scandal.
Queen Máxima: the first Argentinian on the Dutch throne
Queen Máxima was born in 1971 in Buenos Aires, Argentina as Máxima Zorreguieta Cerruti. While she would not become well known until her engagement to King Willem-Alexander and is technically a “commoner”, Máxima had quite an interesting beginning and is of notable heritage.
Her father, Jorge Zorreguieta, was part of the Zorreguieta family. A powerful family in Buenos Aires, the Zorreguietas were descended from landed gentry and consisted of many politicians and statesmen throughout the generations — think Downton Abbey but set in Argentina.
Máxima completed her studies in Argentina and in 1995, she graduated from the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina with a degree in economics. From there, she jetted off to New York where she became a successful working woman — no prince needed.
The future Dutch queen worked as an investment banker for multiple banks and became vice president of her division when, one day, she stumbled across King Willem-Alexander.
How King Willem-Alexander met Queen Máxima
The king and queen of the Netherlands met under surprisingly normal circumstances — at a fair. The fair in question was the 1999 Seville Fair in Spain — picture brightly coloured tents, an amusement park, classic fair games and of course, drinks!
This is the setting in which Máxima met the future king of the Netherlands, although he did not make that known to her in the moment. When first introducing himself, Willem-Alexander, who at this point was still only the Prince of Orange, introduced himself merely as Alexander.
When Alexander later told Máxima he was actually the next in line to the Dutch throne, she initially thought he was joking. Following their meeting in Seville, the couple arranged to see each other again two weeks later back in New York.
The pair dated for two years and in 2001, they announced their engagement over a televised broadcast. During the broadcast, Máxima addressed the nation in Dutch. While she only spoke the language to a conversational level at this point, her willingness to learn the language charmed many watchers.
See the speech here:
Family ties and controversy
However, the introduction of Máxima to the royal family was not all smooth sailing. Máxima’s family became a point of controversy, specifically her father’s ties to the Argentinian dictator, Jorge Rafael Videla.
Jorge Zorreguieta, much like his ancestors, enjoyed a position of power in Argentina. He acted as Secretary of Agriculture under the dictator Jorge Rafael Videla during the beginning of what became known as the “Dirty War” (1974-83).
During this war, Rafael Videla’s civil-military dictatorship was responsible for the “disappearance” and murder of between 13,000 and 30,000 people in Argentina.
Following the restoration of democracy in Argentina, Rafael Videla was prosecuted for crimes against humanity and large-scale human rights abuses. As you can imagine, Máxima’s father became a controversial figure in her life. The question of his own involvement in such a violent dictatorship had to be answered.
Not only did the people of the Netherlands find this aspect of Máxima’s life to be concerning — the government did too.
As a result, the States-General asked Professor Michiel Baud, a professor in Latin American studies, to investigate whether Máxima’s father could have been involved in any of the atrocities carried out under the dictatorship.
Following his investigation, Baud determined that Máxima’s father was not directly involved in any of the atrocities.
However, while Zorreguieta claims he knew nothing of the horrific offences carried out during his time in the cabinet, Baud believes it is unlikely that a minister wouldn’t have known.
Maxima later spoke on the issue and condemned the dictatorship that her father had worked under, saying “I have long rejected the Videla dictatorship, the disappearances, the torture, the murders and all the terrible facts of that time. That has certainly left major scars on our society.”
She defended her father, saying she believed his appointment under the dictatorship was an issue of timing and nothing more.
“Regarding my father’s participation in that government at the time, I would like to say in all honesty that I regret that he did his best for agriculture under the wrong regime. He had the best of intentions and I believe in him.”
No invitation to the royal wedding
One of the main questions that followed the announcement of the royal wedding, was whether or not Máxima’s father would be present.
Some people in the Netherlands called for his arrest should he enter the country, while others questioned whether Máxima was even a suitable addition to the royal family.
However, Queen Beatrix showed her approval of Máxima. Her decision to pose with Willem-Alexander and his fiance on her 63rd birthday acted as an informal stamp of approval for the match.
The matter was finally put to rest when Máxima’s parents decided to not attend the royal wedding in 2002. Her father’s presence would only bring controversy, and her mother decided she would only attend with her husband.
In spite of the initial hiccup, Máxima and King Willem-Alexander were successfully married and now have three daughters: The Princess of Orange, Amalia, Princess Alexia, and Princess Ariane.
The Dutch identity according to Queen Máxima
Surprisingly enough, Máxima would come under fire once again in 2007. When speaking about the subject during a speech for the Scientific Council for Government Policy in 2007, she claimed that there is no singular way to define the Dutch identity:
“The Dutch identity? No, I have not found it.
The Netherlands is: large windows without curtains so everyone can look in; but also adherence to privacy and coziness. The Netherlands is: one biscuit at tea; but also great hospitality and warmth. The Netherlands is: sobriety, control and pragmatism; but also the experience of intense emotions together.
The Netherlands is far too diverse to summarize in one cliché.”
– Queen Máxima, 2007
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of her statement was her claim that “The Dutchman does not exist. As a consolation, I can tell you that ‘the’ Argentinian also does not exist.”
Whilst I’m sure the Dutch would have likely been far more aggravated by one sweeping stereotype — this definition did not sit well with them either. Many Dutch people were outraged at Máxima’s statement, interpreting it as a criticism of the Netherlands.
Is there a concrete Dutch identity?
But Máxima was baffled by the Dutch reaction, claiming that she only wanted to praise the country’s multicultural inclusiveness.
To make matters more confusing, when asked whether or not they felt there was a Dutch identity, only 41% of people answered yes, a survey carried out by The Low Countries found.
A further 42% of those surveyed found that it exists in some respect — but what exactly that means, who knows! Of those surveyed, 6% said they absolutely reject the idea of any concrete Dutch identity.
So was Máxima right in saying there’s no concrete Dutch identity? Some would argue yes.
A queen for integration and inclusion
Whilst Máxima has certainly had some hiccups, it seems that she has integrated nicely into Dutch society — and this is something she wants for all who come to the Netherlands. She has been involved in multiple initiatives that aim to help integrate foreigners, particularly female immigrants.
She took part in a special parliamentary commission that sought ways to improve the integration of female immigrants into the Dutch workforce, and from 2003 to 2005 she was a member of the Committee for Ethnic Minority Women’s Participation.
Currently, Máxima is a part of the Chair on the Management of Diversity and Integration at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and a patron of the Orange Fund — a fund that promotes social welfare and cohesion.
Just in case her involvement in these issues doesn’t have you convinced, Máxima is also the first member of ANY royal family to attend an LGBTQ+ rights conference, having attended a conference in 2008.
Moral of the story, she’s no absent queen.
The people’s queen
Indeed, Máxima is actually a largely popular member of the royal family. In fact, for a number of years, she has been even more popular than the King himself!
Before 2020, her popularity had been steady and high ever since her addition to the family. However, it has dropped over the last few years.
READ MORE | The Dutch and their monarchy; a two-sided coin
Confidence in King Willem-Alexander has seen a sharper decrease, however, dropping to 47% in 2022. (It’s fair to say these ratings probably weren’t helped by that controversial holiday to Greece during the pandemic.) Let’s see how people are feeling this year!
Queen Máxima’s journey to the throne has not been without the occasional bump in the road, but in spite of this, she has proven herself to the majority of Dutch people — be it through her charity work, her interesting roots, or even simply the fact that she was not born into royalty herself.
What’s your opinion of Queen Máxima? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!
Feature Image: Image: Erwin Olaf/Koninglijk Huis/Wikimedia Commons/CC1.0
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in January 2021 and was fully updated in April 2023 for your reading pleasure.